James Forsyth

Why my money is on Balkenende

Why my money is on Balkenende
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When it comes to the position of the first European President, the worst thing to be is the frontrunner as Tony Blair found out the other week. As soon as you emerge as the favourite, everyone concentrates on why you might not be suitable for the job. So, I suspect that Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian PM and current frontrunner, will not end up getting the job. It is hard to see how Britain could accept a candidate who is a federalist and aspires to EU-wide taxes. Also, as a friend who has his ear to the ground on these matters just told me, the rest of Europe will be unwilling to look like they just rolled over when the French and the Germans suggested a candidate.  

But if not Van Rompuy who? Well, tucked up nicely on the rails is the Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende. He is from an EPP member party, a crucial qualification. As the PM of a small country he’s acceptable to the other small European countries but he gets on with Sarkozy and Merkel likes him too — noting that he speaks very good German. The Brits and the other countries that want to go slow are reassured by the fact that as PM when the Dutch rejected the EU Constitution he understands the limits that public opinion places on the European project. All in all, he’s acceptable to everyone even if he isn’t many countries’ first choice — and for a job that will be decided by consensus, everyone is keen to avoid a divisive vote, that’s a pretty good place to be.